Israel and Danielle Paskowitz have been riding big waves with the autism community with their Surfers Healing program. Israel and Danielle learned of their son’s autism diagnosis when he was three years old. As he got older, they understood that their son like many other children with autism often suffered from sensory overloads. Even simple sensations could overwhelm him. After recognizing that the ocean was the place where their son felt the calmest, Israel had the idea of taking his son surfing with him. This experience is what inspired the Surfers Healing program, when Israel realized the beneficial and therapeutic effects that surfing stirred in his son. Today, Israel and Danielle Paskowitz have been hosting the Surfers Healing program for 15 years in Virginia Beach.
The program offers a two-day camp where children and families are exposed to this uncommon yet remarkable therapy. In an interview, Israel was asked what the best part of the camp is and he explained that while initially the best part of the camp was the kids, over time it became more about the effects that it had on the families. The camp provides activities and bonding experiences for a family unit by providing them with a “normal” day on the beach. While other activities or locations may trigger a sensory overload, the beach is a very calm and peaceful location where there is no judgement.
The program inspires more than 500 volunteers to participate over the course of two days. The volunteers, usually consisting of mothers, are set up around the beach to help the families throughout the day. The program has also been rapidly expanding since its conception, as Israel and Danielle started with about 75 children in one day, and now they are accommodating over 450 children over two days. Hopefully the success of the Surfers Healing program will inspire others to create similar programs and encourage the use of surfing and other beach related activities as a form of therapy. The next Surfers Healers camp will occur on Friday, August 16thand Saturday August 17th,2019.